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Natural Resources in Africa

Note: This report is an extract from the book "Grow Rich in the New Africa".

Table of content: Part 1: Forests
  Part 2: Water
  Part 3: Natural Beauty
  Part 4: Minerals
  Part 5: Investments in the Mining Sector


Africa holds about 9% of the world’s water, according to the FAO. However, North Africa and the Sudano-Sahelian region only contribute 1.2% and 4.1% to Africa’s total share of world water resources. These regions include the Sahara, which is the world’s largest desert; and some dry countries at the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea). Other relatively arid areas exist in Namibia, Botswana, and parts of South Africa.

Top ten countries in terms of total natural, renewable water sources between 2008 and 2012:

Total natural, renewable water resources
(in km3/year)
Dem. Rep. of Congo
Rep. of Congo
Sierra Leone

The Zambezi River at Livingstone


Africa has quite a number of big streams that have massive potential for being used as a source of hydropower. The Congo River is the third largest river in the world by volume of water discharged. If the ambitious Grand Inga project were ever realized, it would bring the maximum output of the facility to 39,000 megawatts, twice that of China's Three Gorges Dam. In November 2011, the project was reactivated after South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma signed a memorandum of understanding with the DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila for South Africa to facilitate the funding and construction of the Grand Inga Dam. The outcome is still vague, as the project will cost a lot of money (approx. $80 billion, conservatively estimated), and South Africa’s Eskom must get together with its Congolese counterpart to agree on how the project will be implemented.
The Zambezi River also has more potential to generate hydro power. This is in addition to the existing Kariba Dam at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique.

The hydropower potential of the Blue Nile, which is one of two major tributaries of the Nile, the world’s longest river, is enormous. Ethiopia has announced that it will construct the Grand Millennium Dam, a controversial multibillion-dollar dam that could supply more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity for itself and its neighbors. Together with the Gibe III project, another large dam on the country's Omo River that is currently under construction, Ethiopia will be able to become a major power hub for Africa. It will then become a net exporter of electric power, supplying its neighbors Kenya and Uganda with excess energy.

However, the new dam projects challenge an existing water agreement from 1929 that gives Egypt and Sudan, now presumably including South Sudan, rights over all of the Nile’s water. Egypt, which is totally dependent on the Nile, is threatened by the vision of receiving less water. It has yet to be seen how this conflict of interest will play out.
Finally, there are some huge lakes in East Africa with big economic potential. Lake Tanganyika, which is 673 kilometers long, is the second deepest lake in the world and the second largest in terms of sweet water volume (after Lake Baykal). Lake Malawi is known for its biodiversity; it contains more fish species than any other lake. Lake Kivu, at the border of Rwanda and the DR Congo, has huge amounts of methane gas that could be utilized for power generation. The economic potential of these lakes are - unlike Lake Victoria - still largely untapped.

Other than as a source of power, water, like land, represents the essence of what is needed to sustain life. Therefore, there is also huge potential in providing access to clean drinking water. As the world’s population grows, demand for water may ultimately make it a tradable commodity as in the case with Lesotho, which supplies water to its neighbor South Africa.

> Continue to part 3